Measuring QRP Radio Output Power with an Oscilliscope

PIMP MY OSCILLOSCOPE! Yeah, see that backlight? I made it. My o-scope’s backlight hasn’t worked since I got it (for $10), so I soldered-up a row of 9 orange LEDs (I had them in a big bag) and hooked them directly up to a 3v wall wart. In retrospect I wish I had a bunch of blue LEDs… but for now I can’t get over how well this worked! Compare it to the images a few posts back – you can really see the grid lines now!oscilliscope_leds

I know this is super-basic stuff for a lot of you all, but I haven’t found a place online which CLEARLY documents this process, so I figured I’d toss-up a no-nonsense post which documents how I calculate the power output (in watts) of my QRP devices (i.e., QRSS MEPT) using an oscilloscope.qrss_qrp_circuit_scope

This is the circuit I’m trying to measure.

supply

I think I have increased power output because I’m now powering my 74HC240 from this power supply (5v, 200A) rather than USB power (which still powers the microcontroller). Let’s see!

qrss_qrp_signal

There’s the signal, and I haven’t calibrated the grid squares (this thing shifts wildly) so I have to measure PPV (peak-to-peak voltage) in “squares”. The PPV of this is about 5.3 squares.

10vSquare

I now use a function generator to create square waves at a convenient height. Using the same oscilloscope settings, I noticed that 10v square waves are about 7 squares high. My function generator isn’t extremely accurate as you can see (very fuzzy) but this is a good approximation. I now know that my signal is 5.3/7*10 volts. The rest of the math is pictured here:

powerCalcs

140mW – cool! It’s not huge… but it’s pretty good for what it is (a 2-chip transmitter). I’d like to take it up to a full watt… we’ll see how it goes. My 74HC240 is totally mutilated. I accidentally broke off one of the legs, couldn’t solder to it anymore, and thought I destroyed the chip. After getting distraught about a $0.51 component, I ripped ALL the legs off. Later I realized I was running out of these chips, and decided to try to revive it. I used a dremel with an extremely small bit (similar to a quarter-round burr in dentistry) and drilled into the black casing of the microchip just above the metal contacts, allowing me enough surface area for solder to adhere to. I’m amazed it works! Now, to get more milliwatts and perhaps even watts…

testcircuit


     

AJ4VD Gator Spotted in Essex, England

It’s so awesome that such a small device can send such a low power signal so far away! Anyhow, the title says it all. Special thanks to G6AVK’s “part time” grabber for capturing this awesome series. That’s a 4356.4 mile trip on USB power! ha!

aj4vd_gator_essex


     

AJ4VD Gator Chomps its way into Belgium!

Yeah, that’s over 4,500 miles away! The following image was captured from ON5EX’s QRSS grabber in Belgium! Amazing. I don’t have the equipment to measure its power output, but it’s running on USB power and I’d assume it’s putting out less than 100mW. Amazingly cool!

aj4vd_gator_belgium


     

Drop-In Lowpass Filters?

So I’m sitting in class bored as ever and I’m sketching circuit diagrams and I wondered if I could design a primary simplest-case QRSS transmitter board with drop-in capabilities to change lowpass filters. In other words, I designed a circuit which you can drop in any crystal into and it magically transmits at that frequency, so it would make sense to have a drop-in LPF to match. This is what I came up with… I wonder how realistic this is? It would also give the ability to add different filters (3 pole, 5 pole, or more) without having to re-PCB anything.

drop_in_LPF


     

Measuring Coil Inductance with an MFJ Antenna Analyzer

With my limited resources I’m attempting to design, test, and build a minimalist QRSS transmitter. While working on the output filter, I’ve done a lot of reading and thinking and have determined that a pi filter (a 3 pole Chebyshev filter) will give me the low-pass characteristics I’m looking for to eliminate harmonics of the QRPP output.

aade_filter

This is the filter (with values and AADE-generated gain plot) I’m shooting for. It has about a 12dB reduction by the time it gets to 14m. My major goal is suppressing harmonics, but I thought I’d be polite to the 20m crew. The filter uses standard 1nF capacitors and an inductor of ~.44uH which according to this chart I can get by 12 turns around a small yellow T37-6 toroid. Although I’d like to use an air coil because of the cost savings, I’ll admit that I understand why toroids are used. That’s the filter, as modeled by AADE, software gracefully recommended to me today by David (VK2/VK6DI).

David also suggested that I not rely on standardized values, but rather measure inductance myself. While an inductance meter is out of my budget (of about $10), I was able to check-out W4DFU’s MFJ antenna analyzer, which can measure inductance. However, my readings were not as expected. In fact, with a total short (center connector directly to ground) it read a very high inductance measurement. Knowing that series inductance can be added to get total inductance, I suspected that this could still be useful. I used a T37-6 toroid I had on hand and wound it from 0-25 times, checking the inductance reading after every turn. After plotting and curve fitting, I corrected each value by subtracting the y-intercept and compared these points with those discussed in this chart and, whew! They’re a good match. To measure inductance with this meter, I have to measure inductance with the straight wire, then subtract this value from the final measurement.

how_to_measure_inductance

All right, back to work. Dental school homework is due tomorrow [rolls eyes]

update: this is the antenna analyzer I used:

analyzer

UPDATE 2 I built the proposed filter with wire randomly coiled around an unknown toroid (oh the challenge!), added a 50 ohm (51 ohm, close enough!) resistor as a dummy load, and hooked it up to the SWR analyzer. I noticed a swr minimum around 8mhz… As I unwound loop by loop, I got higher and higher… 9.15, 9.64, and finally BOOM! 10.215mhz swr 1.0. 10.140mhz swr was 1.1. I assume that a low SWR means that the filter passes maximum signal of that frequency into the dummy load, so by “tuning” this filter into a dummy load to minimize SWR by adjusting the coil at a fixed frequency, I maximized gain at that desired frequency. Here’s a photo of the completed circuit. The capacitors are “102”, 0.001uF and the toroid is unknown, but 9 turns seems best.

tuning_toroids


     

Pushing and Pulling

I found a way to quadruple the output power of my QRSS transmitter without changing its input parameters. Thanks to a bunch of people (most of whom are on the Knights QRSS mailing list) I decided to go with a push-pull configuration using 2 pairs of 4 gates (8 total) of a 74HC240. I’ll post circuit diagrams when I perfect it, but for now check out these waveforms!

qrss_amplified

First of all, this is the waveform before and after amplification with the 74HC240. I artificially weakened the input signal (top) with a resistor and fed it to the 74HC240. For the rest of the images, the input is 5v p-p and the output is similar, so amplification won’t be observed. The wave I’m starting with is the output of a microcontroller which is non-sinusoidal, but this can be fixed later with lowpass filtering.

qrss_74hc240

Here you can see the test circuit I’m using. It should be self-explanatory.

qrss_inPhase

Here’s the output of the microcontroller compared to the in-phase output of the 74HC240

qrss_out_of_phase

Here are the two outputs of the 74HC240. 4 of the gates are used to create output in-phase with the input, and the other four are used to create out-of-phase wave. Here are the two side by side. The top is 0 to 5v, the bottom is 0 to -5v, so we have a push-pull thing going on… woo hoo!

qrss_out_of_phase_overlap

The waves, when overlapped, look similar (which I guess is a good thing) with a slight (and I mean VERY slight) offset of the out-of-phase signal. I wonder if this is caused by the delay in the time it takes to trigger the 74HC240 to make the out-of-phase signal? The signal I’m working with is 1MHz.

Okay, that’s it for now. I’m just documenting my progress. 73


     

Solar Powered QRSS Beacon

Haray! I’m making awesome progress with my QRSS transmitter design. Because my current transmitter (previous few posts) was randomly freezing-up (likely due to the oscillator stopping its oscillating due to being overloaded) so I moved the oscillator from in-chip to an external oscillator. It’s been made small enough to fit in an altoids tin, and I already tested it with the solar panel and it works! Awesome! Here are some photos. Again, when I perfect the design I’ll post final schematics.

DSCN0537

DSCN0533

DSCN0539

Sticking out are wires for power and an antenna on each side. The goal is to hang the device between two trees by its own antenna.

DSCN0535

That’s my new chip development board. I made it with what I needed on it. It’s so convenient! It uses 5v of power from the USB port too!

DSCN0532

Alltogether I’ve tested the device and confirmed it transmits radio when the solar panel is illuminated. I’m thinking of making it more effective by adding more panels… but that’s it for now!


     

First QRSS Spot!

I’m so excited! This little transmitter I made and programmed to transmit my call sign (AJ4VD) and a picture of a gator got its first spotting tonight! I’m so excited. It was reported by W4HBK in Pensacola, FL. It’s only 300 miles away, but it’s a start! I’m keeping my fingers crossed and maybe someday soon I’ll hear from Europe. Note that I *JUST* got this thing working this afternoon. I’m so excited!

spotNice

And again, here’s the transmitter in its glorious simplicity:

simple_qrss_transmitter-1